Something large and unattractive is perched on a third-floor window ledge of the decaying John A. Wilson Building, but it’s not a pigeon. From the corner of 14th Street and Pennsylvania Ave. NW, it resembles a gleaming tombstone, a harbinger of doom that has seemingly tumbled from the heavens. Climb three stories up to the office, however, and it becomes apparent that the misplaced chunk is a sloughed-off slab of the granite and marble building itself. For people who come and go from the dilapidated building, the rock on the ledge has become an exemplar of District entropy. But if the piece did in fact fall, how did it land so neatly on the ledge of the building?
“I don’t believe it fell,” says a Government Operations Committee staffer who occupies the office. “I think it was placed there.”
The employee, who doesn’t want her name in any story about rocks or anything else, maintains that the stone was there when she moved into the office about a month ago. That timing coincides almost exactly with a warning from developer T. Conrad Montswho will soon begin renovating the decrepit city hallthat, “The stones are moving…and could fall at any time.”
Three flights directly above the displaced stone, a dark cavity now gapes in a row of sugar-cube white quadrangles on the building’s west façade. It’s as if a giant lost a tooth, making the near-deserted edificelong plagued with tainted water, asbestos, and fire-code violationsappear even more bereft. The people who work inside the building, including the D.C. Council, know better than anybody else that the seat of government is going to hell, but they don’t believe that chunks are actually raining down.
“This is the most ridiculous thing,” chides JoAnne Ginsberg, a Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) staffer, as she directs a visitor upstairs to the stone-observation window. She thinks the rock is getting a little more attention than it deserves, but says, “If it fell, it would’ve been cracked.”
The Government Operations worker has been staring at the rock for a month now. “I don’t know where it could’ve fallen from. I don’t know how you’d fall and land that way….It’s not broken, there’s not a pile of rubble outside on the ledge. It’s one piece,” she says, clearly practiced on the subject after weeks of folks ambling past her desk to gawk out the window. “I mean, other people have come in here and said it fell. I don’t think it fell.”
Monts was not available for comment on the $51-million renovationwhich will begin sometime after the council vacates Fridayor on the prone stone, according to a receptionist at Monts’ Washington Development Group. A spokesperson referred me to WDG’s attorney Fred Cooke.
“It didn’t fall off,” Cooke says, solving the mystery on the spot. “It was taken down by the people who put the scaffolding up. The mortar around the stone had eroded pretty badly, so they took it down,” tucking it safely away, apparently, on a window ledge a few flights down. Once workers begin to overhaul the historic Beaux Arts building later this month, Cooke adds, “the building is going to vibrate in a way it hasn’t in a while.”
Meanwhile, security guards manning the entrance don’t bat an eye at queries about plummeting rocks. Guard Ella Cuff solemnly nods and disappears into a back room. She emerges carting a fist-size hunk of granite that she says fell off the building’s front about a month back. So the Wilson Building is falling apart; it’s just doing it in smaller chunks than people thought. CP